The World Taekwondo Federation (WTF), the international governing body of the sport, is seeking to launch an international pro-taekwondo foundation within this year, in a bid to increase its popularity, said Choue Chung-won, the federation’s president, during an interview with The Korea Times.
“It is time to expand the case in Mexico,” Choue said. “The professional foundation would have a pro-league based on five-person team battles. Preparations such as setting up new rules or coming up with funding sources are in full swing. All of these are part of the World Taekwondo Federation’s effort to make taekwondo a more popular sport.
According to Choue, professional taekwondo is widespread in Mexico and competitions between cities are popular among fans.
“Sports that lose audiences’ attention cannot survive, which means every sport needs to be more exciting and more entertaining. There were doubts over creating a pro-taekwondo federation, but we are pushing forward because there is a strong initiative among us that we have to keep changing ourselves constantly,” Choue said.
According to Choue, the World Taekwondo Federation has long been thinking about establishing a professional league, but undertook the project recently after the sport in January booked a spot in the official program of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, a situation that he sees as a stepping stone which will grow taekwondo down the road.
“For non-para-practitioners, there’s only one discipline — gyeorugi (a type of sparring) — in the Olympics,” Choue said. “However, for para-taekwondo, there are the blind, the deaf, amputees and even wheel-bound practitioners. This means daunting tasks, including making education programs for coaches, referees and athletes, wait for the World Taekwondo Federation, but we are so happy and proud of it.”
On Jan. 31, the International Paralympic Committee held a governing board and announced the 2020 Paralympics final program, with badminton and taekwondo included for the first time. With the announcement, taekwondo became one of 20 sports that will be both featured at the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics.
The announcement also raised the possibility of Choue becoming an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member. Though he said “InshAllah” (if god wills) over the speculation, local sports watchers expect Choue could earn a seat among five which are up for grabs for the heads of international federations (IFs) at the next executive board meeting.
Currently, there are two South Koreans among the 102 members of the IOC. Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee is one of the 70 individual members and Moon Dae-sung is among 15 active athlete members.
“I am thankful for the high expectations, but there is nothing I can do. What I can do is just apply and do what I have to do, which is expanding taekwondo in the world,” Choue said.
In a further bid to expand taekwondo, the World Taekwondo Federation signed Protocol of Accord with the International Taekwondo Federation (ITF), another international organization for the sport, in August last year, allowing athletes currently registered in either federation to freely compete in each others’ competitions under the rules of each organization.
Before the agreement in August last year, only athletes registered to the WTF could compete in the Olympics, because it is the only governing body recognized by the IOC. A number of athletes such as Jade Jones, a British gold medalist in the 2012 Olympics, had to switch from the ITF to the WTF for an Olympic bid.
But with the agreement, both federations’ athletes, including North Korean athletes who are mostly registered to the ITF, can officially compete in the Olympics if they abide by the WTF’s rules.
“It is a great step toward the two organizations’ harmony. By acknowledging each other, we are strengthening our relationship with the ITF, for the benefits of athletes and fans,” Choue said.
The agreement drew speculations over its relationship with the two Koreas, because the ITF has close links to the North, given it was founded by Gen. Choi Hong-hi, who was exiled from the South to the North, and is now led by a North Korean IOC member, Chang Ung.
“In the past, the two federations had no exchange at all, because they had different rules. Also, stalled inter-Korean relation affected this in a way. However, what is clear is the president of the ITF happens to be a North Korean and ours is a South Korean. Linking this fact to the two Koreas’ relations is a dangerous idea,” Choue said.
To enhance the two federations’ ties, Choue‘s side sent an invitation to the ITF to send a delegation to perform at the 2015 World Taekwondo Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia, scheduled from May 12 to 18. The WTF said it did not receive an official reply, but Chang said that “as I expect there would be no IOC schedule at that time, I am scheduled to attend the event,” during an interview with a local taekwondo news outlet, Mookas.
After a series of achievements during recent months, Choue said his federation is now seeking to expand its “Taekwondo Peace Corps” program to other sports, in part of his belief that being self-satisfied will place taekwondo into crisis at any times.
Under the program, the federation has sent more than 1,500 volunteer taekwondo instructors to over 100 countries since it first sent 27 people to five under-developed countries in 2008.
Choue urged that global sports communities to join the federation’s effort under the name of “Sport Peace Corps.” An official at the federation said it is in close discussions with the United Nations and the IOC.
“Among the international federations, we have always been at the center of renovation. Taekwondo as a martial art cannot be changed. However, taekwondo as a sport should constantly change,” Choue said.